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June 20, 2012

I Remember EDLIN

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

Back in the Days of DOS, EDLIN was the command prompt text editor. Or, to be precise, it was the DOS line editor. Anyone know what a line editor is?

Answer: A line editor edits text one line at a time. Forget word wrap! You can type in only a line of text, editing it using simple commands. Then that line is saved; on to the next line.

Want to re-edit line 3? You have to input a command to edit line 3, then you edit or retype that line. If you think typing inside a text box on the web is tough, try using a line editor.

EDLIN is pronounced Ed-Lynn, and it’s short for Line Editor. Well, it’s short and backwards. It’s loosely based on the ed editor available since the early versions of Unix. In fact, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan wrote a lot of Unix using Ed. I don’t think any of DOS was written using EDLIN.

According to the least authoritative reference on the Internet, Wikipedia, Tim Paterson wrote EDLIN to be included with his QDOS program. QDOS is what Microsoft purchased and dubbed MS-DOS. On Wikipedia, it says that Paterson expected EDLIN to die off quickly. One could only hope.

I rarely, if ever, used EDLIN. There were just too many other good, full-screen, text editors available. There was one I was highly fond of called Q-Edit. I still have a copy of Q-Edit on my writing PC. It used the then-popular Wordstar cursor key diamond (and other Wordstar commands) for text editing.

Anyone old enough to remember WordStar?

EDLIN holds a special place in my heart because once upon a time I was drafted to write an educational book on learning how to use DOS. Knowing my history with DOS For Dummies, you think that book would have taken off running.


The academic book market is a strange thing. In many ways it’s a scam; the books are over-priced in what I believe to be collusion between college bookstores and publishers. Regardless, the group of “academics” who reviewed my DOS book blanched at the fact that I omitted EDLIN from discussion.

“You have to cover EDLIN,” they screamed.

I countered that DOS at the time came with a better text editor (EDIT) and that no one — NO ONE — used EDLIN, either professionally or anywhere else. I lost that argument, and the book was never sold.

Anyway, EDLIN is actually still around, some 30 years after Patterson said it would be history. Just fire up a command prompt in Windows and type EDLIN. I just tried it in Windows 8, though you need to enable 16-bit application support to get it to work. EDLIN lingers.


  1. In fact I have used EDLIN (last month, or two ago!)
    There was piece of kit with an Embedded PC on it. I was under strict instructions not to upgrade it or touch it more than fix the problem, Never Ever again!

    Comment by glennp — June 20, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  2. Pretty cool. Edlin ain’t dead. Lin.

    Comment by admin — June 20, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

  3. Im still not entirely sure what a ‘line editor’ actually is, if that refers to the software editor or if that has to do with hardware also. I was reading an old APL book that gave instructions on how to use TTYs of the time, phone modems to communicate with the server and whatnot. What surprised me is that they often had no screen but used a typewriter/printer, so if you made any mistakes, you just had to type another line without hitting enter to the line with the mistake, leaving all your mistakes visible in that session. I think it was fairly common to write your own shell and editor and hardware drivers back in the 70s, a lot of homebrew stuff back then.

    Comment by BradC — June 22, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

  4. Lots of the editor commands back when were designed for teletypes or to be batched into the system. I suppose you could argue that some of todays programmer’s editors are really line-editors in that they lack word-wrap.

    Comment by admin — June 22, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

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